Sunday 12 September 2010

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

The official website of the Welsh Tourist Board, 'Visit Wales', includes the following caption on its homepage: 'Wales. Home of proper holidays. Phrasebook optional, sense of adventure essential, indifference best left at home'. Nothing wrong with that paragraph but I would also add: 'faculty of smelling indispensable, warm handshakes included in the package'. Because as I write this post those are two of the many indelible moments that have stuck in my mind.

As soon as you cross the Severn Bridge, which divides England (via South Gloucestershire) and Wales (Monmouthshire) you're hit by an all-embracing, warm - as in friendly - breeze. Roll down your car window a couple of inches and let the interior of your vehicle be invaded by the soft waft coming from the estuaries of the rivers Severn and Wye. And that's your first introduction to Cymru (that's Welsh for Wales).

Immediately after the M4 becomes your observatory and your automobile the moving camera through which you soak up the greenery the Welsh countryside so well provides. The dual language in which most road signs are written reminds you that although part of the UK, the Welsh are a proud nation and that's shown in the fact that their lingo is becoming more and more popular with youngsters now joining adults at evening classes.

The M4 changes to the A40 and eventually you come to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (via the A487) with its breathtaking landscapes. This is the UK's only coastal National Park as its official website proudly proclaims. A place where wildlife and people live side by side and where one minute one is looking at a sheer drop (and fretting over letting one of the little ones come anywhere near it) and the next minute one is sipping a cold drink on one of the park's sandy beaches.

Our trip ended near Cardigan, a town that was celebrating its 900th anniversary as a town around those days. Our caravan was in the middle of a farm tended by a lovely lady, her husband and her two sons. On one side we could see the sea whereas on the other one a small range of hills made the prospect of going on walks very enticing indeed.

The first two days were taken over by beach trips, especially as we were almost incommunicado (we decided to bring a portable stereo at the last minute) and were unaware of what the weather would be like the next morning. Both Tresaith and Penbryn Beach proved to be attractive spots, though the water was a tad bit too cold for my liking. Yes, you're right, I didn't get in. My children and my wife did, however, and they confirmed my suspicions: the water was freezing. But they had fun. At Tresaith a small waterfall (originating from the river Saith) cascaded over the cliffs onto the beach, thus providing a beautiful sight for those venturing beyond the sandy beach's borders.

Penbryn beach, on the other hand, was longer. The kids had fun surfing (one of the neighbours in the caravan camp lent us a couple of surfboards) and playing in the stream. Although we had to walk from the car park to the beach (there's a dropping off point at the beach edge) the lush vegetation on one side of the road was a perfect and soothing companion. Later, during our stay in Wales, Penbryn beach became the starting point of one of the longest and most-enduring walks my wife and I have undertaken in our life.

One of the goals we had set for ourselves as a family before the beginning of our holiday was to try the local cuisine in Wales as often as our finances would allow us. To achieve this, we decided to dine out at least three times during our seven-day sojourn. It's a testament to the good culinary skills, hospitality and friendliness displayed by the local inn owner that we kept coming back to his establishment. Yes, meine liebe Damen und Herren, the Brynhoffnant Inn, on the A487 Aberystwyth-bound, is the place to eat if you're staying in the Cardigan area. The full address is Brynhoffnant Inn, Brynhoffnant, Llandysul SA44 6DU, telephone number 01239 654 961 and I strongly recommend you give it a try. The atmosphere is great, the food superb (the roasted lamb with mint sauce is fabulous) and the prices are reasonable. As with most things in life, it's the human factor that makes the difference and in this instance we felt very welcomed by the locals.

Our sightseeing experience included Cilgerran Castle, Cardigan town and Aberporth. In addition my wife and I went on a walk around Penbryn which turned out to be more than we had bargained for.

Cilgerran Castle (Castell Cilgerran in Welsh) is a stunning historical building that overlooks the river Teifi. What sets it apart from similar medieval constructions is the fact that it has two massive round towers instead of one. Over the centuries the castle, which is in excellent conditions, has been witness to the sad record of conquest and looting that has befallen the Welsh nation. A joke I read in a postcard in a local town said that when God created the world he had made Wales the most beautiful country on earth, with a friendly population and optimum living conditions. When asked by an angel if he wasn't going too far in giving away so many good things to just one country, God replied: "You just wait until you see the neighbours they're getting".

A couple of miles from Cilgerran is the Welsh Wildlife Centre with plenty of activities for families and children. It was there that we chose to go on the badger trail, one of the many circular walks available in the area. And it was there, too, that the 'warm handshake' scenario, mentioned in the opening paragraph, took place.

We set off on a path that according to the map we carried with us would take us nicely around the Wildlife Centre and to the river Teifi. After walking for about half a mile we noticed that the trail, far from coiling itself up like a snake, continued to stretch out ahead for as long as the eye could reach. That didn't seem right but as I was leading the way, I pressed on. Maybe the sign reading 'You are now leaving the reserve' should have rung bells. But you know that comment people make sometimes about blokes choosing not to ask for directions and preferring to get utterly lost instead? Well, they might have a point. In the end, my wife did approach some fellow walkers coming in the opposite direction and they said that had we carried on on the same path we would have got to the town surrounding Cilgerran Castle. Yes, beat me over the head with that frying pan, guv.

We made our way back slowly and after a while I asked an elderly gentleman I came across whether we were anywhere nearer where we were supposed to be. He smiled at me and said: "My young fellow, if you carry down this path, you will come to a little fork. Take the left path and you should be back on the road, leading to the car park. Go past the car park, past the Wildlife Centre and that's where the walk starts." And all this delivered in that lovely sing-song Welsh accent and sealed with a warm handshake. We finished our physical exercise for the day after we which we all decamped to... yes, you guessed it, the Brynhoffnant Inn.

Cardigan is a picturesque, little town with a rich mix of nature and culture. It proudly sports a stunning coastline but if you prefer a more urban environment there are stores galore that cater to different tastes. My favourite shops were off the main road, in a hidden cul-de-sac, though, the Indoor Market is worth paying a visit to. Cardigan also introduced me to the Welsh sense of humour. Graffitied on a wall I saw a caption that read: Free Wales! Unluckily for the transgressor someone had mischievously inserted a 'h' between the 'w' and the 'a', thus turning the sons and daughters of the Red Dragon into cetacean mammals. Not even William Marshal dared to go that far.

Amidst so much green, it shouldn't come as a surprise that walking was one of our favourite activities and a couple of days before returning to London my wife and I decided to go for a walk around Penbryn Beach. To say that it was exhausting would be an understatement. But, whatever we invested in sweat and energy, was recouped in views. Unspoilt coastal spots, deserted beaches and secluded coves were just some of the amazing sights to which we were treated. And in the middle of it all, the smell coming from the sea. The soft waft caressing my nostrils, my hair salsa-ing with the breeze. The incredible feeling of being free and together with nature. The grandeur of the cliff-tops, and the extensive open vistas. And in my mind two words that conjured up the Welsh experience for me: aroma and a handshake.

© 2010

All photos taken by the blog author

Next Post: 'Of Literature and Other Abstract Thougths', to be published on 14th September at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Cuban, this took me back to a pitifully brief trip I made through Wales about 12 years ago, where the whole point of being there was to catch a ferry to Ireland.

    We did stay for a night along the way, and stopped to admire some wonderful beaches, so all was not in vain. I loved the countryside but had little opportunity to meet anyone save for our B&B hostess, who was lovely. My grandmother was Welsh, and her sister - who I never met - used to write to me regularly when I was little, once sending me a doll in Welsh national costume that I still have.
    Well! Didn't mean for this to turn into a mini-bio, but despite that random detour, I do want to say that anybody who's not persuaded by your post to make room on their calendar for a Welsh holiday has probably already been there and knows whereof you speak.
    Glad you had such an enjoyable time! (Had to smile at the choice of a Nirvana video. No male Welsh choirs???)

  2. Thanks for your kind comment, Deborah. It's funny that you mentioned the male Welsh choirs, because in Cardigan I held a couple of CDs by local choirs and felt like buying them, but as I had already purchased quite a lot of stuff, I left them for another time. And obviously, I forgot. Shame on me. :-)

    When writing this post, I had Nirvana on. Then, the next day I went for a jog and David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' was on my mp3. I knew that there was a clip of Nirvana playing 'The Man WHo Sold the World' on youtube and since it was an accoustic version, it seemed to complement perfectly my experience in Wales. :-)

    Thanks for your comment. Take my word for it. Next time, don't just spend the night there, go for seven to ten days. It's an amazing country.

    Greetings from London.

  3. Cuban, that is a beautiful descriptive of your trip! There were moments where I felt like I was there. Your photos added to the transporting quality of this post. Too often we go on holidays and don't take the time to observe closely our surroundings. That is always unfortunate for us, because we come away from the experience without a full and comprehensive set of stimuli to help our memory later. It's wonderful that you decided to write down your highlights. You will appreciate your own trip all the more for it. And thank you for sharing it with us, too. It was quite a delightful read!


  4. what a wonderfully full and comprehensive post - I love Wales and have travelled there many times - the beaches of Pembrokeshire are stunning if you get the weather - I would like to walk the full coastal path some day - thanks for the fab tour - and greetings from mexico...

  5. Cuban, you brought Wales to life in this post! Your descriptions of Welsh hospitality, warmth, friendliness and accent were vivid and make me wish I was back there. I lived there for three years as a student and miss it everyday.

    Cardiff, which was where I lived, is the friendliest capital city I've ever been to.


  6. Every time I've been to Wales, it's rained. And I've been visiting my in-laws. You sound like you had a far better time than I've ever managed. Love the photos.

  7. Hello CiL, greetings from Canada - nice post! A sort of mini vacation for me just reading it. Loved your photos and your description of the landscape and activities. Sounds like I need to add Wales onto my bucket list. Thanks for sharing your trip.

  8. Thanks Cuban, I have shamefully ignored Wales as any sort of holdiay spot, as it only conjures two memories - enforced Easter holidays at Uncle Edwin's in Abergavenny to break ponies for him, and the cold lino throughout his and Auntie Gwyneth's terraced house (they were not blood relatives, and incredibly short) and then dashing over the Severn Bridge for work when I used to be in the police on the English side of it.
    Your post has encouraged me to give it a lot more consideration, though I must admit I've always had a thing about its castles.

  9. the pix of Wales are breathtakingly beautiful!
    next time, take me along, truly!

  10. Many thanks for your kind comments. I am, however, very cross with blogger because it messed up with the template. I uploaded all the photos using the 'smallest' function but it still ended up splitting the text in 'funny' ways. Oh, well, there's not much I can do, so apologies. :-)

    Greetings from London.

  11. How eanchanting! I've always heard the Welsh countryside was stunning and your pix prove it. I totally understand why your Cuban blood wouldn't let you get into that cold ocean!

  12. Thanks for the virtual trip to Wales you gave me. It looks wonderful.

  13. Many thanks for this wondrous should be hired by their Chamber of Commerce! I will keep a wish that someday I may visit..but I have enough trouble with my native English!

  14. I love the postcard warning about the neighbors, the fact that you ate at the same inn three times a day and the long walks that were mysteriously without the children who you must have parked somewhere convenient....

    900th anniversary! We are such babies here that it's unimaginable to be in such an atmosphere.

    I assume that your caravan was rented and didn't trail along after your car on those highways...many people here drive in or pull campers...but it looks as if you were in something far more interesting....

    thank you!

  15. Wales looks like Devon and Cornwall, both the beautiful landscape and the frigid water. You describe the people and the country so well. Even getting lost was fun. Beautiful photos too!



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